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Braves killer Ozuna now trying to push Atlanta over hump

By CRAIG HANDEL

Associated Press

NORTH PORT, Fla. (AP) As Marcell Ozuna spoke with a reporter, Felix Hernandez passed by.

The two gave each other a greeting using their pinkies. Before that, the Atlanta Braves new left-fielder had a conversation with a minor leaguer.

Even though he delivered some huge blows to Atlanta in the 2019 NL Division Series and made it clear he wanted to stay in St. Louis, Ozuna seems like he's fitting in well with the Braves.

And he was quick to say how much he was enjoying camp before Major League Baseball suspended the rest of its spring training game schedule Thursday because of the coronavirus. MLB also pushed back the start of the season by at least two weeks.

Before that news broke, Ozuna had declared how much he is enjoying being with the Braves.

"The front office and everyone here. I love them," he said. "I think it'll be a good year for me. Making the playoffs and winning the World Series is a goal. I don't worry about anything else."

Ozuna is expected to anchor a corner off the outfield opposite Ronald Acuna Jr., one of baseball's most exciting young stars. Both have struggled at the plate so far this spring but there is no concern with two weeks left until the games start counting.

"Patience is the key," coach Ron Washington said. "You gotta have patience. Each and every one of those guys have done it. But it's a reminder you've got to work at your game. Sometimes you can't go out and get your game. You've got to let your game come to you and you've got to take care of the little things."

Ozuna and Acuna have already unleashed their big swings.

They're just not getting the results.

"They're trying to do what they're capable but they haven't done the repetitions to get it here," Washington said. "They'll bring it back. They'll get some base hits, then stretch it out. They have the pedigree. Hitting is a feel thing. Video breaks down what's wrong in your approach. Once they get that feel, they'll have a run for three, four, five months."

Manager Brian Snitker added, "As long as they're not worried, I'm not. These guys could still heat up and cool off while we're here. Sometimes all it takes is a good walk. As soon as we leave here, what they hit here, it's gonna be forgotten."

After a monster season with the Miami Marlins in 2017 - 37 homers, 124 RBIs and a .312 batting average - Ozuna came back to earth with the Cardinals the last two years.

But he came up clutch against the Braves in the playoffs.

Ozuna had a two-run double in the eighth inning to tie Game 1 at 3, and the Cardinals went on to a 7-6 victory. He had two home runs in Game 4, a 5-4 win for St. Louis that extended the series. Finally, he drove in the first run in a record 10-run first that carried the Cardinals to a 13-1 rout in the decisive Game 5.

Ozuna signed a one-year, $18-million contract with the Braves after he turned down the Cardinals $17.8-million qualifying offer. Talks over a multiyear deal never panned out, and he turned down a reported three-year, $50 million offer from the Cincinnati Reds.

Ozuna caused a minor stir this spring when he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about the Cardinals' offer, "If I knew before it was going to happen like this, I would have taken it."

While he acknowledged it was a "little weird" coming into the Braves clubhouse at the start of spring training, "now we are family."

Among the things he's hoping to add once the regular season begins is postseason experience.

"These guys are pretty good," he said. "When you lose a game, it's missing that one pitch or not doing that little thing to win a game. With that young talent, I'm going to help everyone that needs a little advice."

In assessing his start, Ozuna said every season, hitters can lose their timing after being off and that they have to remember to refresh their mind.

"Sometimes, you can get into bad habits,'"' he said. "I'll get one hit, then I'll get two hits in a game and then you say, `Now, I'm ready.' It's like your body tells your mind when you're gonna get there."

Notes: 1B Freddie Freeman, dealing with a personal issue, should be back in action on Friday, according to Snitker. ... The manager also said he's going to start putting relievers in situations where they're facing three batters, which is a new MLB rule this season.

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Updated March 12, 2020

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